Bloodsport (day 1 of 3)

Now I show you some trick or two.

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Ugh, darn ambiguous titles never tell me what to expect.

Bloodsport, a movie SO painfully & gloriously awash in the 80s. It was a different time: when American pop cultural masculinity turned more aspirational than representational and was thus typified mostly by impossibly glistening strongmen with indecipherable speech patterns (often foreign). Possibly because what they said mattered so much less than what they did, and what they did was… well, just about anything. Action stars in the 1980s were not just heroes but gods: invincible, noble supermen whose physical prowess defied all logic, and who could only be threatened by treachery rather than being outright defeated.

Only in such an environment could one such as Jean-Claude Van Damme thrive. Although a bad actor (to be fair, he has slowly gotten better), like his contemporary Arnold Schwarzenegger he has a strange charisma & innate watchability, even apart from his athletic abilities. And despite all the instances of choreography which favors vanity over believability (why do opponents just stand there stupidly while he does a 360-degree jumping spin kick?), Van Damme’s skills are legitimately amazing: he was a national karate and kickboxing champion before he ever set foot in Hollywood. And even to this day, he can still rock those splits like nobody’s business. God bless you, JCVD.

"You're welcome."

“You’re welcome.”

Bloodsport, from 1988, was hardly Van Damme’s first movie but it was definitely his big break and first starring role. The movie is a special kind of ridiculous because it’s the Hollywood-embellished version of a story that was almost certainly made up in the first place. That story being the wild exploits of Frank Dux, who announced to the world many years back that before he was 30 he’d already been a super soldier and super spy when he wasn’t busy being a no-shit American Ninja Warrior who won the hell out of secret tournaments that no one else has been able to verify the existence of. Don’t you feel under-accomplished now?

Anyway, Bloodsport the movie is the story of (again) Frank Dux, who goes to compete in the “Kumite,” a secret full-contact tournament featuring the best martial artists around the world. Dux competes to honor his master, a Japanese immigrant who had taken Frank under his wing many years ago. In-between competition days he also has to dodge two Army CID goons (one of whom is Forrest Whittaker) who have been sent to keep Dux from getting hurt because he’s too valuable to Uncle Sam. Yes, really.

This entry is about halfway between a usual series and a retrospective (I first attempted to make it the latter). Every fight scene takes place under nearly identical circumstances, but some are much shorter than others or are not even shown in full. With the tournament unfolding over three days, the movie divides all its action into three large chunks, and that’s how we’ll tackle them all.

But still, we’ll be covering things pretty quickly. This is a relief because not only are there a lot of fights in Bloodsport but they can also get quite bland & repetitive; there’s not much to say about a lot of them. The film was definitely made during a strange time in American martial arts history, and gets by now on a combination of nostalgia and its own corny energy. Not to mention Jean-Claude’s hypnotically swaying legs.

[Note: I’ll list the names of the fighters and actors when I can, but sometimes they’re simply not provided.]

1) Sen Ling vs Suan Paredes

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The Fighters:

  • Sen Ling, apparently some sort of karate user. Actor not listed in the credits.
  • Suan Paredes, who seems to be a kickboxer. Played by Michel Qissi, Van Damme’s longtime friend in real life who would later play the villainous Tong Po in the movie Kickboxer.

The Fight: The very first match in the Kumite, actually, so it basically serves as our intro to the proceedings. It’s…. not bad, but not really great either. Beforehand, Ling and Paredes size each other up all macho-like, and as a final “reminder” (in reality for the audience’s benefit, as the characters would already know this), Frank & his pal’s escort explains the way the tournament is played: single-elimination, no body parts off-limits, and matches only end via submission, knockout or ring-out.

The two fighters are a bit tentative at first. Suan is pretty agile and skilled with some high kicks and knees.

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A good series of blows puts Ling down, including with a slow-mo shot (the film is never shy about its slow motion) showing blood fly from his mouth, prompting Frank’s buddy to utter the kumite’s “bloodsport” nickname that gives the movie its title.

Ling rallies a bit and puts a minor hurt on Suan, but the kickboxer comes back with a strong combo that puts the Asian fellow down for good– out cold AND out of the arena.

Bloodsport’s combat scenes tend to be either fantastically ridiculous or stiffly “realistic.” This definitely falls into the latter camp. It’s technically uninspired but oddly notable for its mean, brief ugliness.

2) Ray Jackson vs [Unknown]

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The Fighters:

  • Ray Jackson, Frank’s new pal and the only other American competitor. Despite having polar opposite personalities they built and unlikely friendship, which began with bonding over a few rounds of the justly-forgotten game Arcade Champ after arriving in Hong Kong. A hulking (with an unquantifiable mixture of fat & muscle) biker with no discernible fighting style, Jackson is a cocky brawler rather than a disciplined warrior. Played by Donald Gibb, who most know as Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds.
  • An unidentified fighter, leanly muscled but nowhere near Ray’s size. Like Jackson, he wears an uncomfortably tight pair of sweat pants.

The Fight: Short but sweet. Just as the fight starts, the freshly shirtless Ray calls his opponent an “asshole” for no apparent reason. When the match begins, Mr. Random unloads a good set of blows against Ray, who just stands there and takes it. It culminates in a strong high kick to the big man’s face, making his nose bleed profusely.

Apparently a student of the “nobody makes me bleed my own blood!” school, Ray gets mildly pissed at this, and with one sudden move he seizes his foe by the hair and delivers a devastating overhead haymaker that puts the kid down instantly.

So... it's that simple, then?

So… it’s that simple, then?

Disproportionately jubilant over an easy victory, Ray pumps his arms up to make the crowd cheer louder, and takes the opportunity to publicly taunt Chong Li, the current champion, who seems amused at the prospect. After he resumes his seat, Frank teasingly asks what took him so long.

3) Chong Li vs Budinam Prang

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The Fighters:

  • Chong Li, the film’s villain and the reigning kumite champion. Obviously a celebrity within the martial arts world, Li is a consummate showman. He projects an aura of casual supremacy, and works the crowd after and even during some of his matches. But deep down he’s utterly vicious, cruel and amoral– he already killed one competitor in the last tournament, and that won’t be the last. A man of few words but amazing power, as is immediately evident in his ridonkulous physique. Played by Bolo Yeung, a veteran Hong Kong actor, contemporary of Bruce Lee’s, and former bodybuilding champion (hence the absurd pectorals).
  • Budinam Prang, a wiry & determined fighter. Given his name I’d guess he’s from Thailand. Played by Samson Li.

The Fight: In contrast to the high-strung energy he will channel later in the movie, Chong Li’s debut fight has him acting bored, almost irritated to bother with such a weakling. His cockiness is well-earned, though, because while Prang tries gamely with some spirited blows, Li simply shrugs them off and counters quickly. His second responding move leads to him putting the poor little guy into a simple hold, completely at the villain’s mercy.

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Some kind of distinctive snapping noise is heard, but all Li did was squeeze and Prang’s body doesn’t move in time with the sound effect, so it seems like a needless flourish.

Even without a snapped neck, Prang is helpless. Li milks the moment briefly with the crowd, and knocks Prang out with one brutal chop to the face. All done. The scoreboard say it’s a new record, about 14 seconds or so, but it felt longer.

It’s an odd way to build up your villain. Li certainly does shut down his opponent with little effort so we get the idea that he’s incredibly strong, but it’s done in a very limp way– there’s nothing terribly impressive about the attacks Li overcomes, or the pain he dishes out. Remember in Ong Bak when Ting took out that first chump with a single, incredibly cool knee to the chest? It’s nothing like that. Fortunately Yeung’s considerable charisma & physical presence go a long way.

4) Frank Dux vs Sadiq Hossein

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The Fighters:

  • Frank Dux, our protagonist. Odd that it’s taken so long to finally see him fight, even if we did see him endure a lengthy training montage flashback earlier. Dux is the ideal hero: quietly noble, supremely capable, effortlessly handsome; navel-gazing viewers who prefer the profoundly flawed protagonists of the 70s and the modern era will have a hard time watching Bloodsport. Frank uses a style of “ninjutsu” (i.e., very flashy karate) taught to him by his mentor, Senzo Tanaka, after Tanaka’s own son & martial arts heir died young. Played by, of course, Jean-Claude Van Damme.
  • Sadiq Hossein, a Syrian fighter of unknown discipline. He already had a hostile confrontation with Dux the night before when the hero intervened to save a plucky female reporter from Hossein’s lecherous advances. Between his misogyny, cowardice and dishonorable fighting tactics, the character doesn’t exactly push back against Arab stereotypes. Played by Bernard Mariano.

The Fight: It’s even sillier than Chong Li’s. Hossein taunts a bit but can’t walk the walk. The Syrian tries a simple punch, which Frank seizes and then smacks Hossein a few times with his free hand.

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He tries a kick and Dux does the exact same thing. Hossein goes down, and Frank holds a fist over him menacingly. Sadiq takes the hint and feigns unconsciousness as a tacit surrender in the fight. The referee declares Dux the winner, but Hossein suddenly decides he doesn’t like being chumped out, and tries to attack Frank from behind. Effortlessly, our hero blocks him, then takes him down with a couple elbow strikes. Now he’s really done. To top it all off, Dux has just barely beaten Li’s still-fresh speed record.

Just as with Chong Li, it’s an odd way to establish how good one of your leads is– in this case, putting him up against a complete chump.

5) Montage I

Ah, the beloved 80s montage. Bloodsport wisely elides over many of the intermediate matches so we can spend more time with the leads, but still lingers on enough colorfully distinctive tertiary fighters so that we remember them as they recur and eventually face off against some of the bigger names. Ironically, some of the best and most complex fighting in the film happens in these fleeting matches full of characters we never get to know. This first montage is set to the film’s signature tune, the ever-catchy “Fight To Survive” by Stan Bush, who has both the touch and the power.

There’s a sort of Blah matchup between a white guy in shiny blue pants and a nondescript kung fu dude. The most notable thing about it is how the white guy falls down to his left after being kicked on the left side of his face. Sometimes I think this movie’s choreographers missed the part of choreography school where they taught choreography.

There’s a hilarious, recurring “monkey fighter” named Ricardo Morra who we see in a training montage that opened the movie (his “training” consisted of climbing up a tree and smashing coconuts) up against a generic white karate man. He’s known by the vaguely offensive “monkey fighter” name due to his frankly ape-like fighting style: he constantly squats low to the ground and moves around very quickly in a bouncing manner. While it’s unpredictable and fun to watch, it’s not any real or practical martial art that I’m aware of; it certainly must be murder on the quads. Anyway, Morra pretty thoroughly kicks the white guy’s ass by repeatedly going for his legs, then jumping on his back while he’s down and going to work on his head.

Two Asian kung fu guys present the best traditional Hong Kong martial arts moves in the whole movie, going at each other with a fast & complex exchange. Sadly they have little personality and are given marginal screen time.

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A distinctively Muay Thai fighter (a Westerner who the boards will later identify as “Paco”) fights an acrobatic man in a karate gi. His opponent is fast but ends up getting beaten badly by the kickboxer’s deadly feet and knees.

A sumo-looking man named Pumola also makes an impressive if brief debut. Even more so than Jackson, Pumola is a thick wall of muscle and fat, and although skilled lets his size do much of the work. Here all we see him do is pull a Bane and crack some poor fool’s back over his knee. Hardcore.

We also get quick glimpses of Dux, Chong Li and Jackson cleaning up more competition. Ray’s brief inclusion is the funniest: he simply flings one poor kid right out of the arena like a television bouncer. No ticket!

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Not everything’s great, but it moves so quickly it’s a lot more fun than the stand-alone fights have been so far.

And with that, Day One is over. Again, it’s silly but not lacking in its own awkward charm. The stakes will increase both physically & emotionally soon enough, but the first day of fighting is a solid introduction to our principal characters and what kind of combat we’re in for.

Grade: B

Coming Attractions: Day Two!

In which we learn the deadly Wheelchair Technique

In which we learn the deadly Wheelchair Technique

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Scott Pilgrim vs The World (fight 4 of 4)

For once I’m at a loss to make a video game analogy that the movie itself hasn’t already beat me to.

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+6 Blogger Pre-emption

4) Gideon Graves

The Fighters:

  • Scott Pilgrim, obviously. Much more pissed off and determined than before. Played by Michael Cera.
    • Armed with: Eventually, he gets to use two swords, The Power of Love and The Power of Self-Respect. They’re both in the form of flaming katanas, the latter being more powerful.
  • Ramona Flowers again takes part in the proceedings. Played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
    • Armed with: Nothing much, but she briefly makes use of a standing lamp to defend herself.
  • Knives Chau, the teenage “Scottaholic” who’s been messed up since Scott ditched her for Ramona. She incorrectly blames Ramona for this. Played by Ellen Wong with manic enthusiasm.
    • Armed with: Befitting her name, a pair of short but wide knife-like blades.
  • Gideon Gordon Graves, aka G-Man. The Seventh Evil Ex and leader/founder of the League. A wealthy businessman who has his own record label and several nightclubs, Gideon is manipulative, arrogant and cunning. The comic book incarnation is more overtly evil & villainous, but here he’s portrayed more passive-aggressive, a kind of transparently phony kindness that’s both creepy and amusing. Played by Jason Schwartzmann.
    • Armed with: Two swords, one of which is concealed in the cane he carries with him. The other he seems to conjure basically out of thin air, with a glowing blue blade that makes it resemble a lightsaber.
  • Also there’s some henchmen, who are pretty nondescript.

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The Setup: After a fight with Scott, Ramona ditches him and goes off to be with Gideon, who rubs it in by signing Sex Bob-omb to his label (Scott refuses to come along, and with no objection whatsoever from the rest of the band he’s instantly replaced). Our hero spends a while being lonely and rejected, but a follow-up call from Gideon– oozing obseqious insincerity– spurs Scott to go fight for the woman he’s in lesbians love with.

A series of improbably correct passwords gets him into Graves’ new nightclub (the Chaos Theater, a reference to the amazing game Earthbound), where he quickly finds his enemy, perched at the top of a stage, captive princess and all, like, well… a boss.

"You have no chance to survive make your time"

“YOU HAVE NO CHANCE TO SURVIVE MAKE YOUR TIME”

Sex Bob-omb is playing, feeling conflicted at Scott’s presence but still reluctantly obeying their new boss. Pilgrim tells off the villain and goes to charge the stage, but gets repeatedly stopped by Gideon, who pretends to act confused at Scott’s hostility. When Scott explains he’s in love with Ramona and fighting for her, he gains the Power of Love sword, which emerges from his chest and increases his level.

Of course it’s never that easy, as Graves demonstrates when he snaps his fingers and summons several henchmen. At G-Man’s request, Sex Bob-omb plays some accompanying music.

The Fight: Pilgrims and the henchmen waste little time throwing down, but he makes short work of them– really, Lucas Lee’s stunt men were more of a headache. Though that’s to be expected, because Scott is not only armed with an amazing weapon, but he’s also got some serious narrative momentum on his side.

The sequence, though light, is shot with Wright’s usual dazzling style, switching effortlessly between multiple camera angles (including one excellent, extended tracking shot) as Scott cuts them down one by one, leaving a man-shaped pile of coins each time.

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With no one standing in the way, Scott & Gideon leap at each other to exchange mid-air sword blows a la Ninja Gaiden, but surprisingly (or not so surprisingly if you played Ninja Gaiden) it’s villain who gets the best of it, his cane sword smashing the Power of Love into pieces. Before the villain can finish Pilgrim off, he’s interrupted by Knives Chau’s arrival. Descending from the ceiling, Knives kicks the sword from Gideon’s hand, but immediately turns her rage against… Ramona.

"You broke the heart that broke mine!" she actually says without somehow making you hate her

“You broke the heart that broke mine!” she actually says, somehow without making you hate her

Knives starts dueling with Ramona, to Ramona’s confusion and Gideon’s amusement. Meanwhile, Graves gets back to the business of attacking Scott, this time more physically since both of them are unarmed. The villain is pretty good hand-to-hand but not great, the two of them seeming more or less even. The ladies’ brawl is a bit more frantic, with Ramona gruntingly denying Knives’ accusations in-between avoiding her attacks.

Filming simultaneous fights is always tricky but Wright handles it well, alternating between showing the battles unfolding both separately and concurrently.

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On the lower level, Scott is eventually able to get the upper hand, or perhaps foot– he wraps his legs around Gideon’s neck and scissor-flips him down the stairs. Then he goes to sort out the cat fight up above, and in doing so has to face the painful truth that what he did to both these women was actually pretty crappy. Even as he retreats back into his old persona and tries to duck responsibility, Scott is suddenly stabbed from behind by Graves.

No visual symbolism there.

No visual symbolism there.

It looks like Game Over, with Scott seeming to drift into the afterlife as he says goodbye to Ramona (and also learns that Gideon was controlling her via computer chip in her neck) in a limbo-esque subspace desert.

But then we’re reminded: Scott has an extra life, having collected the strange icon after his battle with Exes 5&6. In the book, the 1UP was employed in a more arcade-traditional way: Scott simply got back up to fight some more. But here, Wright employs it more ingeniously, like starting the whole level from scratch or picking up from the last save point. In a rapid montage, we see Scott run off to the Chaos Theater, only this time he accesses the club more smoothly, makes amends with his band, and wastes less time on Gideon’s small talk.

Most importantly, rather than declaring he’s fighting “for love,” Scott answers that he’s fighting for himself– for his own dignity rather than any tangible reward. This is apparently worth way more experience points than before, because it gives him the Power of Self-Respect sword, and a Level-Up that’s even stronger than the first time through.

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See? Check the stats.

Scott makes even shorter work of the henchmen this time, a veritable purple blur. He faces down Graves again and this time it’s Scott who wins the Ninja Gaiden-off, breaking through the villain’s sword and cutting him on the arm.

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Graves collapses for a while, giving Scott time to call out Knives and try to dissuade her from attacking Ramona. She drops down in a frenzy anyway, but Scott cuts her rampage off early by coming clean and apologizing, to her and Ramona both. Through some unexplained means, this shuts down Ramona’s control-chip.

But Scott and the Evilest Ex still have unfinished business and, in true genre fashion, the previous incarnation wasn’t even his final form.

Silly Canucks don't even know how to spell

Silly Canucks don’t even know how to spell

In his upgrades form, Gideon fights with a kind of lazy but graceful power, often holding his sword in just one hand with the other poised oh-so-aristocratically behind his back. He is able to work a good number on Scott at first, but things look up when Knives decides to enter the fray (looks like a simple “I’m sorry” can do wonders for a girl). Their first assault against him is enough to make him swallow his gum, which he reacts to with disproportionate outrage.

The next stage of the fight is more overtly video-gamey than ever, with characters flashing red as they take “damage” and even flickering a bit.

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The Pilgrim/Chau team does quite well at first but soon Graves is able to knock Knives off the platform, and soon after he hits Scott’s sword hard enough to break it, too. With the hero stunned, Ramona walks over to Gideon, who still thinks she’s under his sway. She surprises him with a knee to the groin (attack his weak point for massive damage!), which earns her a block that sends her down the stairs. Fortunately that’s just long enough for Knives to recover and disarm the villain.

The attack on Ramona gets Scott incensed as well, and Graves is looking at a tough combo.

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It goes higher than two, trust me

Without his glowing sword Gideon is no match for the team, and they pepper him with a furious onslaught of blows in a brief, exciting and stylized montage. Knives delivers a devastating attack at the end that whittles his (visible) life bar down to the very last, leaving him to utter a final bitter monologue while he flickers on the edge of death.

Scott has little patience for it, and delivers the final blow himself.

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Easily the best fight in the film. Not much in terms of laughs, relatively speaking, but it makes up for it with some sneakily-affecting character work. The gimmick of Scott’s extra life extends the fight in a way that feels both natural and not tiresomely repetitive. Though the staging is all combined to one very tight location, the fluctuating number of fighters and varying weapons still makes it quite dynamic indeed. Indeed, this is Scott Pilgrim’s finest hour.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: YOU ARE NEXT!

Pacific Rim (bonus round)

As I’ve said umpteen times already, there’s a huge gap between Fight #1 and Fight #2 in Pacific Rim. But that’s not quite true. The much-anticipated giant robot vs giant monster throwdowns are indeed thin on the ground during this period, but amidst the various cliche-ridden shenanigans and melodrama, there’s a handful of honest-to-gosh real physical human fights which aren’t too shabby. It’s of course a few thousand tons shy of the action scale we came for… but it’s well-done enough that I feel bad completely ignoring it.

And yes I usually stick to my self-imposed rules for which movie’s fights I do and do not count, but you know what, it’s my blog, so whatever.

Mako is not impressed with my reasoning.

Mako is not terribly impressed with my reasoning.

So consider it a bonus round, a breezy way to burn through the rest of the week before we start on the next subject. “Breeze” being the key word: we’ll do all three at once here.

Handily they all involve our boy Raleigh Beckett, who is a lot more fit and combat-ready than you’d expect for a guy who’s been off feeling sorry for himself the last five years.

1) Nobody Candidates

Raleigh‘s Opponents: Three Chinese gentlemen, apparently selected by Mako as the best possible potential drift partners. Consistent with Pacific Rim’s treatment of non-main characters, we don’t know these people’s names or really anything else about them.

And not to be the awful white devil who can’t tell Asians apart , but the fact that they’re three young Chinese men with similar heights, builds, clothes and haircuts is a bit confusing considering that a few minutes ago we were briefly introduced to the Wei Tang triplets who pilot Crimson Typhoon; you’d be forgiven for briefly thinking they were sparring with Raleigh for some reason– like, Typhoon was going to give up one of its pilots. That wouldn’t make sense, but a lot of this movie doesn’t make sense. (The triplets are actually part of the small crowd watching the fight, but no one could blame you for not noticing that the first time, either.)

Why there weren’t more than three candidates, I don’t know. Also the tests are done using wooden sticks as kendo swords, which is odd because that’s largely not how jaeger combat works. Each duel works on a point-based system, with every blow or simulated blow counting as a point and the first man to four points the winner. Raleigh calls these a “dialogue” rather than a fight, but they sure look a lot like fights.

The Fight: It moves quickly enough that we immediately get the idea we’re not seeing all of each fight, just the final stroke or so each one. We even hear Mako grumpily calling out each final score, always with Raleigh way ahead. The Chinese guys are fit and skilled, but no match for Beckett– he consistently takes them down with little to no effort, and maintains enough control of each fight that he can do so without hurting them.

"Events occur in real time," Kiefer Sutherland whispers.

“Events occur in real time,” Kiefer Sutherland adds in a whisper.

It’s nothing too great, but there’s some fancy footwork here and it’s fun to watch. We get our first glimpse of Raleigh doing his thing outside a jaeger cockpit.

Grade: Not Bad

2) Mako’s Got Spunk

Raleigh‘s Opponent: Mako, duh.

After facing them all down, Raleigh calls out Mako on her attitude, and she replies that if he applied himself better he could have taken them out even faster. This leads, despite some resistance from Pentecost, to Mako entering the ring herself so she can bring our boy down a peg.

After some low-key trash talk/sexual tension, the two have at it.

My wife and I met the same way. No we didn't.

My wife and I met the same way. No we didn’t.

The Fight: Surprisingly, Mako just stands there coolly when Raleigh darts in with the opening move, not flinching as he stops the stick less than an inch from her head. He interprets it as her being unready, but it’s implied she may have deliberately done it to screw with him. Just as he steps back to begin the next round, she herself darts in and catches him unawares, which is kind of dirty pool if you ask me. (And of course you asked me, that’s why you’re here.)

After another “easy” hit puts Raleigh back in the lead, the two have a longer exchange and she finally gets the better of him. After an even longer back & forth, Raleigh tries switching his fighting stance halfway through but still loses the point to Mako after some up-close tussling and getting flipped over. He does better in the next round, though, making the score all tied up.

The last exchange is the longest of all, with both players ratcheting up the intensity. Raleigh takes a fall but isn’t out, as he’s able to lock up her weapon so they’re in an apparent stalemate.

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The match gets called off by Pentecost, but Raleigh has learned enough to want Mako as his partner. Which the movie will make happen, albeit by the painfully long route.

After a quick little scene establishing Raleigh’s skill, we get a longer bit that establishes Mako’s own prowess simply by having her show him up, if not too much. The scene doesn’t overly sell that they’re “drift-compatible,” as Raleigh gushes later (again, that whole process is vague), but there is a definite tension between them here in this solid fight with a nice ebb & flow.

Grade: Pretty Good

3) Aussie Smackdown

Raleigh‘s Opponent: Chuck Hansen, Raleigh’s unnecessarily aggressive rival/bully. This encounter happens just after Raleigh & Mako’s first drifting attempt nearly resulted in Gipsy blowing a hole in Shatterdome. Chuck is understandably upset, but goes way too far in needling the would-be pilots as they wait outside Pentecost’s office for their punishment. Raleigh is able to take the high road at first, but loses it when Chuck calls Mako a bad word.

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Chuck’s taken by surprise at first but gets into the swing of things pretty well. The pair’s battle is an interesting mixture of unpolished street fighting and complex, MMA-style maneuvers– the latter of which largely come from Raleigh.

Indeed, Beckett is the one who is largely in control of the fight, though Hansen puts up a pretty good effort. They have a nice extended struggle and exchange of blows that culminates in Chuck getting slammed painfully against a wall. He hits hard enough to rupture some piping, which releases a bunch of steam around him as he glares hatefully at Raleigh– an effective if obvious visual metaphor.

Our hero does even better in round two, systematically shutting down Chuck’s assault and even slapping him at one point, apparently just to rub it in. Finally Beckett is able to wrap his legs around one of Chuck’s arms, bringing them both down in a strong hold.

Try not to let someone do this to you.

Try not to let someone do this to you.

Thankfully the grown-ups arrive and break things up before Raleigh can break the arm of one of the few remaining jaeger pilots. Gipsy’s pilots are sent to the principal’s office, and Chuck’s left in the hallway with his old man, getting restrained so he doesn’t rush over and get beat up some more.

This image sums up the entirety of these two characters and their relationship with each other.

This image sums up the entirety of these two characters and their relationship with each other.

This is the best of the bunch, being the most technically complicated and emotionally charged. It’s also unusually layered for this movie, since on one level the audience is happy to see Chuck get smacked around, but on another we understand that Raleigh really did screw up big time, and his rival is right to be upset with him. Deep! Well not really. But still very well done.

Grade: A Lot of Fun

Coming Attractions: Take it easy there, Pilgrim.

“If your blog had a face, I would punch it.”

The Raid: Redemption (fight 5 of 5)

BOSS FIGHT!!!

And he has SO many hit points.

And he has SO many hit points.

5) Rama & Andi vs Mad Dog

The Fighters:

  • Rama, our hero. Played by Iko Uwais.
  • Andi, Rama’s brother and long-time black sheep of the family. Rama didn’t know he’d be there until he saw the pre-mission intel, and came determined to bring him out alive. Though physically formidable he’s more of an administrative/brains-type guy of the villain’s operation, and having something of a conscience he’s done what he can to minimize unnecessary brutality. Played by Donny Alamsyah.
  • Mad Dog, the crime lord’s top enforcer and the real physical threat of the movie (the villain Tama will, spoiler, soon be unceremoniously shot by Wahyu). One of the few characters in this movie whose name is more than four letters. Played by Yayan Ruhian.

The Setup: Fresh off their victory in the drug lab, the protagonists ascend up to Tama’s lair on the 15th floor. But on the way, Rama sees something that makes him stop and let the others move on without him: his brother, tied up in the center of a dank room, getting pounded like a sack of meat by Mad Dog. What Rama didn’t know until now is that Andi’s employer had discovered his aid of Rama, and has sicced Mad Dog on him as punishment/interrogation.

He wordlessly enters and stares down the villain. Mad Dog stops his slow torture of Andi, releases him from the ceiling-suspended chain and allows the brothers a brief reunion as he cranks up the winch he’d been suspending his target with. Then he approaches the two and gestures for them to step aside, positioning himself so that he’s directly between them.

Because, you know, otherwise it would have been too easy.

Because, you know, otherwise it would have been too easy.

Nobody needs to say anything, everyone knows what’s about to happen. Now, consider that Rama is still exhausted from his last three epic fights, and Andi has been stabbed through one hand and steadily beaten for a good while. Mad Dog, meanwhile, though he did have a nasty showdown with Jaka a while back, is fresher than either of them. On the other hand, there are two of them… but back on the first hand, this IS Mad Dog. So this is a lot less uneven than you’d think.

After a brief standoff, everybody gets down to business.

The Fight: Pure insanity. Emphasis on both words, because while the fight is certainly all kinds of crazy, it really is pure (well, nearly enough) in the sense that it is almost entirely unadorned by weapons, the environment, fancy tricks or outside interference. It’s just three warriors in a small room, trying very hard to kill each other.

It’s also of epic length: well over five minutes. That’s an eternity in fight scene time, especially in one that’s completely free of aforementioned adornment and has no changes of scenery. (There’s one brief cutaway early on to the Wahyu’s doings, but I’m not counting that towards this fight’s run time.) If the Jaka/Mad Dog duel was a breathless sprint, this one is a grueling marathon.

As with many battles of its ilk, recapping the exact goings-on would be a fool’s errand. Suffice it to say that despite it basically being five minutes of the same thing over & over, this fight never gets boring, and in fact only gets better as it goes on. Somehow it keeps staying fresh and diverse.

Rama & Andi make an effective team, sometimes getting the better of Mad Dog individually and sometimes overwhelming him by their superior number (or one hitting him while he’s engaged with the other). Given the lightning-fast nature of the battle there’s obviously not much time for the brothers to plan out any teamwork, but they do have a few good moments of improvised cooperation. My favorite is probably when Rama flings Mad Dog about by his leg and a downed Andi adds to the throw’s force with a kick to the chest.

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When Mad Dog gets back up and has to defend himself against both brothers attacking him head-on while slowly backing towards the door, Evans films it in a really striking head-on shot of Mad Dog where all you can see of the two heroes is their limbs. It’s where the still from the top of the article came from.

But the villain gives more than as good as he gets, several times managing to overpower the brothers even when they do combine their efforts. And most of the fight he only has to engage with one of them at a time, since he keeps putting each one down with such ferocity that they’re slow to rise and help the other.

After a while the intense & exciting music steadily grows more, as we can see Mad Dog slowly wearing out his two opponents. Andi goes down hard when he’s slammed stomach first into a large metal box (air-conditioning unit or some such, probably) and shortly after that Rama takes a dive when the villain flips him all the way over in the air– before he lands, he goes so high his feet smash into one of the ceiling’s long fluorescent light tubes. (This will be important shortly.)

With both his foes reduced to writhing on the ground in pain, Mad Dog makes the same face we saw him make earlier, just before he killed Jaka. Uh oh.

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You don’t ever want to be in the room when Mad Dog makes this face. Actually, you just don’t ever want to be in the room with Mad Dog.

He decides to start with Rama, the more dangerous of the two and the one he’d been unsuccessfully hunting for most of the movie. As he pulls the hero up and lays hands on his neck, a dazed Andi sees a broken shard of fluorescent tube on the ground nearby. He crawls slowly to it, seizes it, pulls back Mad Dog’s head from behind and stabs him right in the side of the neck with it. Owwwwww….

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Improbably, this only seems to make Mad Dog MORE angry. He drops Rama and beats Andi mercilessly, and even starts slamming his head into the floor. Rama tries to interrupt but he gets a beating too, and almost nearly takes a probably-fatal elbow to the chest before Andi jumps back in and blocks it.

This last bit of teamwork seems to have worn down Mad Dog enough (he may be losing blood from the stab wound) that Rama is able to get around him and put his arm in a lock so that he can break it with a swift hand strike. Without missing a beat, the hero glides back around to the other side and breaks the other.

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With the villain now far less able to defend himself, Rama whips around and delivers a series of rapid-fire punches to Mad Dog’s chest. Then he spins him around and delivers a really hard knee to the chest, possibly breaking some more bones. That’s two snaps, a crackle AND a pop, I believe.

Mad Dog doesn’t have much time to worry about seeking medical attention, though, because Rama immediately slams him to the ground and holds him down by the shoulders. Andi crawls over and pins down his legs for good measure. Rama grabs the still-embedded (!) light bulb shard, and slowly drags it all the way across the villain’s twitching throat. It’s SO gross, but with a guy like Mad Dog you have to pull out all the stops. Hell, if I were them I’d go on to decapitate him, then cut his body into fifths and bury the pieces in separate continents. You know, just to be sure.

I mean, at least try setting him on fire.

I mean, at least try setting his body on fire. Are you SURE he’s not a vampire?

This is absolutely phenomenal. It may not be the best all-around fight in The Raid, but it’s exactly the kind of epic, adrenaline-soaked, balls-to-the-wall note this kind of movie needed to end with. If there is any true flaw it’s that the introduction of the bulb shard is a bit of a cheat, interrupting the purity of the fight. But it’s such a desperate struggle by then that it’s hard to begrudge the heroes for pulling out all the stops, and besides, Mad Dog still kicks their asses for a little while after the initial stabbing; they don’t actually kill him with it until he’s already pretty much lost anyway.

More than ever, you can really register the exhaustion and the desperation of the combatants. The quasi-realism the movie employs thus makes Mad Dog’s nearly superhuman ability to withstand punishment all the more impressive. A truly epic end to a truly epic movie. Gareth Evans, you are the chosen one.

Grade: A+

Recommended Links: Don’t forget to check out the trailer for Berandal, next year’s sequel to The Raid. Apparently Rama goes undercover so he can beat even MORE criminals to death. UPDATE: Trailer #2!

Coming Attractions: BWAAAAAAAAAAAAMP

Shadows of the Colossi

The Raid: Redemption (fight 4 of 5)

Drug bust.

Face bust.

3) Drug Lab Assault

The Fighters:

  • Rama, our hero, now patched up and rested a bit from his previous encounters. Played by Iko Uwais
  • Wahyu, the police lieutenant in charge of the mission. Older and in worse shape than any of the other team members (and sporting hilarious bleach blonde hair), but plenty mean enough. It’s come out by now that Wahyu is deeply corrupt and has outlived his usefulness, which is why he’s ordered this raid as a sort of last-ditch shot for leverage. His companions know he’s dirty, but they keep him around because it’s important to stick together. Played by Pierre Gruno.
  • Dagu, another SWAT member who we don’t know much about. Basically only around because he’s lucky enough to have survived. Played by Eka “Piranha” Rahmadia. No idea what the nickname is all about.
  • Drug lab thugs, about 15 or so. They’re spread out all over the place given the huge nature of the lab, and probably a few are also coming in from other rooms so once again it makes sense that they’re attacking our heroes at irregular intervals. Most seem to be there to make drugs but several are probably guards, so their individual skill levels vary.
    • Armed with: Some have knives.

The Setup: After getting some help from the crime lord’s other lieutenant, Andi (who turns out to be Rama’s brother. Ze tweest!), Rama lays low for a while and eventually re-unites with the other two wandering survivors. They decide that since the exits are being watched by snipers, the only hope they have is to complete the mission as planned, so they head onward and upward. This will take them through the rather large drug lab (unspecified what kind of drugs, could be multiple types) not too far from Tama’s perch on the 15th floor.

While Wahyu and Dagu act as bait, Rama takes out the lone roving guard on the stairwell, tossing the gun-wielding thug over the edge. Here’s where the sountrack (or at least the US version, enhanced by Mike Shinoda and Joseph Trapanese) kicks into high gear with a rhythmic, jaunty, techno-esque tune. We see a long pan over the many workers in the lab going about their business, until they’re suddenly interrupted by Rama bursting through the door and tackling another guard. Time go all Nancy Reagan on this biatch.

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The Fight: On many levels this is the most ambitious fight of the movie yet. It’s three allies with different fighting styles loosely cooperating against a numerically superior but disorganized opposition, in a very large space with lots of obstacles. Of course as you might have guessed by this point, Evans and crew pull it off masterfully.

There’s a wild, popping energy to this scene that sets it apart. The last fight was a vicious duel to the death and the one before that was a desperate struggle for survival, but this one’s just a smorgasboard of hyper-kinetic, high-speed violence. In this way it’s closer to the first fight than anything, only a lot more so because there’s more combatants, more space to play in and more energy at work. The fighters here run and jump and pull all sorts of crazy stunts. Evans goes back & forth between all three protagonists as they put down henchmen left & right, with varying degrees of difficulty.

Dagu proves surprisingly capable for a guy who’s basically just lucky cannon fodder. He fights a lot like Rama but seems to be faster and more wiry, getting in several good beatdowns in this sequence.

But strangely in this fight it’s Wahyu who comes off as the most memorable. Despite being a paunchy middle-aged man amongst a crew of young, ripped martial artists, Wahyu is still quite the badass. That’s in spite of his dearth of martial arts prowess, rather than because of it: while Dagu and Rama pull off dazzling acrobatics and surgical beatdowns, the crusty lieutenant is just a big simple beast of a man. He throws wild haymakers and topples down huge objects around him as diversions. At one point he even channels his inner bad guy wrestler when he uses a chair to sweep the legs out from under a charging foe, then brings it crashing down on him brutally when he’s on the ground. He’s a bull in a china shop and it’s delightful to watch.

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Rama, of course, is the fight’s MVP and rightfully gets most of the focus. Even though he’s still kicking ass in fine form, he absorbs a healthy amount of punishment from the tougher thugs, but he keeps coming back. At one point he’s able to seize a foe’s knife and starts his old slash & stab routine, but he loses it soon enough when he opts to throw it across the room to skewer a baddie who’d been choking Wahyu from behind.

The final showpiece of the sequence involves Rama and the last bad guy leaping onto opposite ends of a very long, thin table. Like, “I said, could you PASS the SALT?!”-long. They charge each other at full speed, and Rama gracefully leaps over what would have been a deadly slide kick.

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“Why aren’t we fighting on the ground?” “Shut up, this is awesome!”

They have an extended battle and the last guy does pretty well for himself, until Rama is able to deliver a stunning kick-punch-sweep combo that drops the thug so that he lands with his back slamming against the table’s edge. Ouch.

The only thing “wrong” with this fight is that in comparison with the last two it’s relatively inconsequential: there are no recognizable faces amongst the sea of interchangeable bad guys here, and none of them rise above moderately threatening. Even the final table duel, while neat-looking, doesn’t end with quite the level of “oomph” the movie has subtly trained us to expect from this sort of thing.

On the other hand, that’s kind of the scene’s strength. This sequence comes during a particularly harsh stretch, storywise: Jaka has died, the remaining heroes know they’re cut off & alone, and Andi’s treachery has just been discovered by his criminal colleagues. The heroes, and the audience, need something light, fast-paced, and fun. They need a good clean win, and boy is this ever that. From the moment the high-paced music kicks in you begin to feel like it’s Comeback Time, and know that the movie’s starting to come into the home stretch.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: An unfair fight.

Definitely not fair, they should have at least three more guys.

Definitely not fair, they should have at least three more guys.

The Raid: Redemption (fight 3 of 5)

Constanze: “Is it not good?”

Salieri: “It is miraculous.”

Don't ALWAYS bet on the tall guy.

Unfortunately not the kind of miracle Jaka’s going to need.

3) Jaka vs Mad Dog

The Fighters:

  • Sergeant Jaka, the smart & capable leader of this SWAT team. While the corrupt Lieutenant Wahyu is ultimately in charge of this mission, Jaka is the team’s field commander. Played by Joe Taslim, a former Judo champion-turned-actor who you might recognize from being in Fast & Furious 6 earlier this year.
  • Mad Dog, one of the crime lord’s two right-hand men. Smart, sadistic, relentless and enthralled with the glory of physical combat, Mad Dog is one dangerous puppy. Played by Yayan Ruhian, a renowned silat instructor (he used to train the Indonesian equivalent of the Secret Service) turned actor. While Iko Uwais is undoubtedly the star of The Raid and does the lion’s share of physical work, Ruhian is the movie’s secret weapon.

The Setup: While Rama has been fighting his way through legions of cannon fodder and mini-bosses, his companions Jaka, Wahyu and another cop named Dagu have been evading and hiding as well. Finally holing up in an abandoned apartment, this second group of survivors try to figure their way out of this mess. Jaka is able to deduce that Wahyu is hiding something and confronts him. After some drama (including the revelation that this mission is not officially sanctioned and no one else knows they’re here), the group decides to sneak out, but they pick the absolute worst time because as soon as Jaka opens the door he gets a kick in the face from Mad Dog, who’s been dispatched with a couple followers to track down the survivors.

There’s a scuffle between the two sides that ends Jaka ordering his men to escape, with Mad Dog’s posse in pursuit. Meanwhile, the two leaders get caught in a weapons stand-off that is decidedly uneven.

Sean Connery had a few choice words about this sort of thing in The Untouchables.

Once they’re alone, Mad Dog gestures for Jaka to put down the knife, which he does with some caution. Then they both rise and, at the villain’s further direction, enter the room. Mad Dog closes the door behind them and relaxes. As Jaka stands a few feet away, wary, Mad Dog unloads and discards his gun, then removes his sweater. All the while he talks about how killing someone with a gun is too easy (“like ordering takeout”) and he prefers the thrill of the fight, of getting his hands dirty.

The audience has already been informed, via Jaka’s intel, that Mad Dog is definitely crazy, but we didn’t know how crazy. The way Ruhian delivers his lines so calmly, even breezily, indicates the presence of a truly dangerous psycho. There’s something about his simple confidence in himself that’s kind of terrifying.

The villain stretches out, struts toward his target, and immediately unloads.

The Fight: Just non-stop, pure, brutal violence. They’re punching, kicking, blocking, dodging, tossing, reversing. They’re down, they’re back up, they’re all over the room, they’re slamming each other into things. It’s fast and it’s insane. No amount of description could do it justice. It’s a hurricane.

It certainly rocks you like one.

Hard, percussive muic kicks in just as soon as the fight starts, and only briefly lets up at one point when Jaka is able to get atop his adversary and furiously tries to choke him to death. Then it kicks right back in as soon as Mad Dog pops loose.

The two combatants are dazzling, managing that amazing feat of playing out meticulous choreography while somehow making it all look natural; it’s simultaneously a work of technical perfection but it’s also just two warriors trying desperately to kill each other.

He’s basically performing a sideways Shoryuken.

And for all Jaka’s superlative skill, it becomes increasingly clear that he’s out of his league here. Mad Dog is too fast, too resilient, too much. Jaka can’t stop him, heck watching this you’d almost believe a superhero couldn’t stop him. Though the villain absorbs many powerful blows and is left a sweaty, tired mess by the end, Mad Dog’s victory is guaranteed when he delivers a particularly strong knee to his foe’s face.

Jaka is still moving afterward, but is notably slower and dazed. Here the whole pace of the fight slows down, because the villain knows the end is near. He even revels in it, as we can see in a close-up shot when he tilts his face to the ceiling in a moment of perversely serene ecstasy.

From here on Evans plays a few tricks that solidify the sense of dread and inevitability. The drums die down and are replaced on the score by an odd mechanical whine that steadily rises, so loud that it drowns out the sounds from the few remaining blows (instead they’re accompanied by drum booms on the soundtrack). Because what happens from here is no longer excitement & entertainment but drama: a good man is about to be murdered.

Mad Dog softens Jaka up with another running blow. Then he grabs his neck, and, still savoring the moment, caresses his enemy’s head, almost affectionately. Jaka squirms to get loose but a vicious punch to the face stuns him further.

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And with one brutal twist, boom! Neck snapped. Just like how Superman does it.

The word for this is perfection. It is utterly without flaw from a technical or dramatic standpoint. It avoids the sins that deflate so many otherwise great fight scenes (and, to be honest, even a few great ones). The two combatants don’t just “take turns winning”; they have a genuine, non-stop and complex push & pull where neither side gains advantage for more than a few seconds. Rarely is a fight this convincingly close, either– they’re both amazingly talented fighters but while one is clearly better, the other truly makes him work for it; it’s plausible that Jaka could have won. And the victor does not win on a technicality or a matter of luck. Mad Dog wins simply because he’s better… or perhaps just more crazy, savage and fearless.

While Taslim is outstanding, the real star of this fight is, of course, Yahyan Ruhian. He has a surprising range for a non-actor– he only ended up in front of the camera after joining Gareth Evans’ previous film, Merantau, as a choreographer, and ended up filling in an acting slot when the director had trouble filling a small but important antagonist role. In Merantau he was certainly a bad guy but more of a tragic one, his soulful eyes betraying a lot of regret. But here he’s a flat-out psychopath, the kind of guy you’d cross the street to avoid if you saw him walking down the sidewalk. On paper, the kind of bad guy who puts down his gun because he so openly relishes bare-hands killing is such a cliché, but Ruhian elevates it through the sheer intensity of his performance.

And one other thing? This whole battle, including the slower portion at the end as Mad Dog prepares to give the coup de grace, is well under two minutes. Yet it’s packed with so much incident it feels like much more. Is this how Olympic athletes feel during the 100-meter dash?

We are honored to witness this.

Grade: A+

Coming Attractions: Taking the rest of this week off for Christmas. But when we come back, our heroes say no to drugs.

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With extreme prejudice.

The Raid: Redemption (fight 2 of 5)

Eat your heart out, Jason Voorhees.

It looks like he’s reeling just from being yelled at, which actually makes this even better.

2) Machete Chaos

The Fighters:

  • Rama, once again. Played by Iko Uwais.
    • Armed with: Not a darn thing.
  • The Machete Gang, as the credits oh-so-accurately call them. They’re a band of five (soon to be four) particularly tough thugs who have been roving the building together for stragglers. If this movie were a video game (and it is SO a video game), these guys would be the miniboss squad. Their leader (“Machete Gang #1”) is particularly aggressive and deranged; he may well be hopped up on some amphetamine or another, given his demeanor and resilience. Played by Alfridus Godfred, Rully Santoso, Melkias Ronald Torobi, Johanes Tuname, and Sofyan Alop.
    • Armed with: Hint’s in the name.

The Setup: After successfully unloading Bowo in the home of the one decent man in the entire building (and just barely hiding in the walls from the Machete Gang while he was at it), Rama has resumed his mission alone. But it’s not long before he encounters the gang again in a hallway. One of them is significantly closer than the others, so when Rama flees, he’s the first to catch up. Our hero of course beats the crap out of him, though it takes significantly longer this time, and finishes him off by tossing him down the building’s main stairwell, where he lands on a concrete ledge a few floors down, back first. Ouch.

Rama runs up one more floor and gets chased for a while, but when he finds himself at a dead end, he knows he has no choice but to do this the hard way.

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The easy way does not exist in this film.

There’s a brief stare-down between the two factions, and then before you can say “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” everyone rushes in to get some killin’ done.

The Fight: Rama works harder here than ever before, being careful to stay inside the swing radius of his foes’ blades. It largely works, but he has a couple close calls that he barely dodges, including at one point when one of the gang (the one with impressive dreadlocks) almost stabs his face off after pinning him to the ground with a running leap onto his chest.

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And for being the only unarmed guy, Rama does kick a decent amount of ass here, scoring lots of blows that temporarily incapacitate an opponent or two at a time, only to leave him to go right back to the remaining ones. He also briefly lays hands on a machete himself and proves fairly adept with it, but loses it in an up-close suffle after only getting to deliver a painful-looking but superficial wound. There’s even a mildly funny bit where he tries to pick it up off the ground but his hand gets machete-slapped away by the gang’s leader.

At one point Rama gets caught between two thugs on either side of the narrow hallway (Evans switches to a cool overhead shot for this) but is able to turn the situation around by beating them both soundly. He kicks one bad guy hard enough to smash him through the door of an apartment, then grabs the other one by the neck and leaps them both backwards so that the thug’s neck lands on the protruding shards of the broken door, killing him instantly.

This happens. This is a thing that happens.

There’s enough of a lull in the action that Rama takes time to pause, seemingly shocked at his own brutality. Possibly more so because the thug he just killed looks all of 17 years old.

But the fight picks up again soon enough. Rama is quickly able to kill another of the gang by taking his machete, using it to slice him through the gut and side of his neck, and then bury it in his chest. After that, he’s unarmed again as he squares off in hand-to-hand with the dreadlocked guy, who proves surprisingly adept at martial arts. He hits Rama with some pretty fancy moves, knocking him over a couch and following up with several mean-looking blows.

But the hero rallies, and when Dreads tries to jump up so he can deliver a devastating knee to Rama’s face, Rama tackles him in mid-air and swings him into the corner wall like a sack of wet garbage. It seems to put him down for the count.

This frees Rama up to tussle alone with the leader, who proves alarmingly resilient and capable. There’s a real vicious push & pull between the two as each struggles to take the other out. The villain very nearly executes a mean suplex on Rama, who actually changes his own momentum in mid-air so he only flips forward to land on his feet (and then falls on his face). Then Rama almost gets his neck-snapped before he can break free, head-butt him and attempt a choke of his own. They trade some more blows, screaming at each other wildly the whole time. If the first fight was a complex ballet the whole way through, the second one quickly devolves into a desperate struggle for survival.

The thug is able to pick up his machete again and misses with a few wild swings. Rama gets in close, softens him up with a few blows, get around behind him and put him down with a hard punch to the back of the head. Visibly shaken, Rama checks the AO, wary of any lingering or new threats. When the gang leader stumbles shakily to his feet, our hero panics and tackles him with a wild surge of energy, sending them both plummeting out the window.

This is what you'd call a "hail Mary play," I believe.

This is what you’d call a “hail Mary play,” I believe.

They fall several stories, clip a ledge on the way down and stop on a metal balcony. Rama lands on top of his foe, so he’s relatively okay, but still pretty roughed up. Worse so when some of the bad guys stationed outside the building open fire on him. Most of the bullets bounce off the balcony’s bars, but at least one round makes its way into his flak jacket, and when he crawls inside he has to desperately remove the vest to get the heated bullet away, sacrificing yet another layer of protection. But at least he’s alive. Any fight you can walk away from….

Another piece of extended awesomeness here. As mentioned there’s a whole different vibe to this scene, as Rama is up against stronger odds right from the outset– not to mention that the first battle had to have taken a lot out of him. The bad guys here are not just more threatening but more distinctive visually, with their crazy-eyed leader having already established himself as being particularly ruthless and hateable.

One of the movie’s more subtle yet distinctive triumphs of choreography is also apparent here: reversals. In several clashes between hero & villain, one party will attempt a move that the other reverses, escapes or otherwise defeats. It’s not always something simple like a punch or kick, either, but a complicated throw or some such. And even though the move doesn’t work you can always tell what the first person is trying to do, which makes it even more impressive when you see the target cancel it out. Just one of the many little things that help make this movie so amazing.

And for all that The Raid is so wild & intense, there’s an interesting undercurrent of realism that grounds it, exemplified here. Rama’s physical condition degrades visibly as the fight goes on, and once it ends, between the exhaustion and the multi-story fall he’s quite out of it. His vision is blurred and he’s stumbling around like an Irishman at four a.m. the morning after St. Patrick’s Day. If not for the timely intervention of an unlikely ally he’d have been easy pickings.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: No time for sergeants.

This is even less friendly than it looks.